Article IV: Of the Resurrection of Christ
This post is part of a Lenten series on the 39 Articles.
Article IV: Of the Resurrection of Christ
Christ did truly rise again from death, and took again His body, with flesh, bones, and all things appertaining to the perfection of man’s nature, wherefore He ascended into heaven, and there sitteth until He return to judge all men at the last day.
Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. That threefold declaration is about the most basic statement a Christian can make, beyond the even more basic “Jesus is Lord.” Really, if we can’t make the threefold declaration about Christ’s death, resurrection, and coming again, we’d have to ask our selves basic questions about our ability to call ourselves Christians.
But then it starts to get more complicated. There are plenty of people who would claim that faith in Christ’s resurrection means assent to the idea that Christ popped back to life just as he had been alive before. That seems to be what this Article claims: “Christ…took again His body, with flesh, bones, and all things appertaining to the perfection of man’s nature.”
That’s a tough one for lots of people. Let’s talk about two ways it poses a challenge. For the scientifically minded, it’s hard to swallow the notion that someone was dead and then came back to life. But then any number of aspects of the Christian (or even religious) worldview would be rejected out of hand. And, frankly, scientists ought to be less confident or self-assured in some of their truth claims. If anything, science has a long history of reversing itself. That’s fine, and progress in knowledge and wisdom is something to which all of us should strive, whatever our worldview. (Christians would do well to do this!) Just because science can’t explain something today does not mean that science will be unable to explain something tomorrow. That’s the subject for another post.
There another way in which assert Christ’s bodily resurrection can pose a challenge, and that comes from the bible itself. Remember Emmaus? Christ hung out with his closest friends for quite a while and they did not recognize him. Remember the upper room? Christ appeared in a locked room. If Christ had just popped back to life just as he was before, there should not have been a challenge in recognizing him. And regular people do not just appear inside locked rooms.
You see, it is clear that the resurrected Jesus Christ is not the same as the earthly, pre-resurrection Jesus Christ. Well, he is the same person, but his form was clearly different. This should not surprise us. His life was different from other lives. His death was different from other deaths. And his resurrected form was peculiar.
So while asserting the truth of the resurrection is essential for Christians, I’m not sure we should be too rigid on saying exactly what form that resurrection took. Why must we assert corpuscular resurrection in order to believe in new life? Perhaps we need to open our eyes and our minds a bit to make room for God to work in ways that we cannot easily explain. (Do you see the irony in people of faith getting rigid in their faith. Where is the room for God’s power?)
The mystery of the ascension is another one we should be careful about. It is enough to say that Christ returned to heaven; we need not say how many clouds he passed or the velocity of his motion whilst ascending.
Then there’s judgment. I’ve heard very few sermons in Episcopal congregations about judgment. We ignore this at our own peril. While I do not think the threat of judgment should be used as a blunt weapon to coerce good behavior in this earthly pilgrimage, I do think it is utter folly to imagine there are going to be no consequences for our choices in this life.
This Article breaks no new ground. Everything here is from the scriptures and creeds, with the possible exception of specificity around the mechanism of Christ’s resurrection. Still, there is plenty to ponder here.
Here are some questions on which you might meditate:
- Does it matter to you in what form Jesus Christ was resurrected? What about your own resurrection at the last day?
- How could the humanity of Jesus Christ be fully manifest in his resurrection when resurrection itself is not something that we have experienced (yet) as humans? Or maybe the question is this: how should we re-imagine our ideas about humanity given the experience that Jesus Christ shared with us in his resurrection?
- Jesus’ disciples could not recognize him at times when he was resurrected. In what ways do we sometimes fail to see Jesus among us?
- How might our faith and our church be changed if we spent more time thinking about (and praying to) a Jesus who is our judge and not just our friend?
Almighty God, who through your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life: Grant that we, who celebrate with joy the day of the Lord’s resurrection, may be raised from the death of sin by your life-giving Spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.